Eric Adams Returns From Ghana, His Spirit Cleansed and To-Do List Full

He met with foreign dignitaries and participated in a spiritual cleansing ceremony. He visited infamous sites of the slave trade and toured thriving local businesses. And he celebrated Hanukkah with a fellow Brooklynite, about 5,000 miles from home.

As New York City grappled with a spate of urgent challenges over the past week that will have lasting implications for the incoming mayoral administration, the mayor-elect, Eric Adams, was in Ghana, searching, he has said, for his roots on a “spiritual journey.”

For many Black Americans, a visit to Ghana — a country through whose ports millions of Africans passed on the brutal journey to plantations — is a wrenching and moving experience. And Mr. Adams, slated to be New York City’s second Black mayor, has cast his recent trip there as proof of resilience and progress.

“My ancestors left Africa with slavery,” Mr. Adams declared at one recent event. “I’m coming home with the mayoralty. And if I do that only for my aspiration, then I failed those ancestors.”

But after more than a week away, Mr. Adams has returned to a city that is confronting serious problems of public health and public safety, and a new, sweeping vaccine mandate that he must navigate.

He must also jump-start a transition process that has, so far, lagged the pace set by his predecessor.

Mr. Adams left town having made no appointments to his future administration — in contrast to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had announced roles including police commissioner, first deputy mayor and director of intergovernmental affairs by the end of the first week of December 2013.

On Thursday, Mr. Adams officially announced his new choice for schools chancellor, David Banks, a sign his transition is accelerating. He opened the event with a direct rebuke of anyone who would question his trip abroad, including, he said, the “tabloids.”

“People who criticize this, they just didn’t get it,” Mr. Adams said. “They just didn’t get what my campaign represented to so many people in this city and in this country.”

His team insists that he remained heavily engaged in transition work from Ghana. He also kept tabs on New York City politics as his top lieutenants waded into the City Council speaker’s race, a contest that has significant implications for Mr. Adams’s agenda and has become increasingly contentious.

“The mayor-elect worked continually throughout his trip, regularly talking with key advisers about the Omicron threat and other pressing issues, while preparing his new administration and planning for a number of major announcements on his return,” said Evan Thies, his spokesman.

Few would begrudge Mr. Adams a postelection vacation or question the meaning of his trip to Ghana. But his visit came less than a month before he is to be sworn in to one of the most consequential jobs in the country, and some questioned the timing.

“It is very unusual,” said Maya Wiley, a former counsel to Mr. de Blasio and a civil rights lawyer, who ran against Mr. Adams in the June mayoral primary. “What I could say is that it surprises me that this was a trip that could not be taken after the primary, and that it is a very intense time for most new administrations coming into office.”

The trip was largely closed to the press, which Mr. Thies defended by emphasizing the private nature of the journey — but it was hardly a quiet resort retreat. Mr. Adams met with politically and civically prominent people, including a former president of Ghana and the mayor of Accra, the capital city, and delivered speeches of his own.

Interviews with leaders in Ghana and a review of social media postings show that he spent significant time with the Heritage and Cultural Society of Africa Foundation, or HACSA, an organization that is focused on issues including promoting African heritage and building connections with the diaspora.

The group is helmed by Johanna Odonkor Svanikier, a former Ghanaian ambassador to France and Portugal, who accompanied Mr. Adams on parts of his trip.

“HACSA’s mission is to help members of the African diaspora return to their roots and learn about their history — a mission that deeply resonated with the mayor-elect,” Mr. Thies said, asked how Mr. Adams was connected to the organization.

Mr. Adams was the guest of honor at a celebration for the group, where he encountered officials like UNESCO’s Accra director, Abdourahamane Diallo.

“We discussed areas of possible cooperation in education, culture and heritage with the City of New York, from Heritage to the UNESCO’s program on cities,” Mr. Diallo said in an email, relayed through a spokeswoman.

A news release from HACSA also said Mr. Adams pledged his support for an initiative designed to connect “diaspora youth” with Africa.

Mr. Thies said Mr. Adams paid for the trip himself, but said that as a matter of policy they would not provide receipts. Gabriella Lourie, a representative for the group, said HACSA did not fund the trip.

Mr. Adams visited a range of sites of significant historical, economic and cultural importance to Ghana, and was joined on the trip by his partner, Tracey Collins. He spent time at the home of the civil rights leader and activist W.E.B. Du Bois and the surrounding complex, where Mr. Thies said the home’s caretakers added a tribute to Mr. Adams’s mother to a wall honoring Black leaders.

“He was deeply moved by that,” Mr. Thies said.

Mr. Adams toured businesses that reflect the importance of goods like cocoa to the Ghanaian economy.

And he received a new name — Barima Yaw Asamani, a nod to a Black royal warrior — as part of a traditional spiritual cleansing ceremony. The practice was undertaken because his ancestors were forced out of the country against their will, according to one of the elders involved.

“He is not the first person who has been cleansed and who has been renamed,” said Nana Semanhyia Darko, the spokesman for the chief of Akwamu state, who carried out the ceremony. “African Americans have been visiting this place, and we have been renaming them.”

A central part of Mr. Adams’s visit was a trip to the notorious slave forts of Cape Coast and Elmina Castles, and he stopped at the “Door of No Return.” When President Obama made a similar stop in 2009, he said the experience illustrated “pure evil” and reminded him of a concentration camp.

That experience “was an emotional moment for the mayor-elect that gave him perspective on the importance of the challenges ahead for him as the city’s next leader,” Mr. Thies said.

Mr. Adams was not made available for an interview to discuss those takeaways and other aspects of his trip.

HACSA, however, offered a steady stream of updates on social media. One Instagram picture showed him standing near a canon at Cape Coast, wearing sunglasses and gazing at the sea with a somber expression.

Another image showed him wearing colorful, flowing garb as he posed at a memorial site honoring Kwame Nkrumah, saluting the former leader of Ghana who was at the forefront of the nation’s battle for independence. He toured the site with Nkrumah’s daughter, Samia.

“I think it’s good that our mayor is visiting Africa,” said Yaw Nyarko, a professor of economics at New York University who heads N.Y.U. Africa House and does work in Ghana. “New York is a big city, I think it’s one of the few cities where the mayor actually has a foreign policy.”

The professor noted the Ghanaian government’s work in encouraging tourists, in particular African Americans, to visit. Asked about Mr. Adams’s claim that the people of Ghana were awaiting his visit as they did Mr. Obama’s, he laughed.

“It’s a little bit unfair, Obama was the president, Adams is yet to be mayor; so without a doubt there’s a difference in level of name recognition,” he said. But, he added, “Everybody is anxious to see more connections between Ghana and New York.”

One clear connection was on display early in Mr. Adams’s trip, when he showed up at a Hanukkah celebration hosted by Chabad. Rabbi Noach Majesky, the Chabad rabbi in Accra, is from Crown Heights in Brooklyn.

He described Mr. Adams’s visit as “a Birthright type of trip.”

The New York Post first reported on the Hanukkah visit. Mr. Adams was connected to the event by Ms. Svanikier’s husband, Thomas Svanikier, Chabad officials said.

Wearing what appeared to be a light yellow dashiki shirt, Mr. Adams posed before a picture of a menorah, spoke of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh grand rebbe of the Lubavitch Hasidic movement whose base is in Crown Heights, and discussed the “open wounds” of the Holocaust and slavery, according to videos provided by Chabad of Ghana.

“I came here to close the open wound of slavery and reconnect with my ancestors,” Mr. Adams said, speaking on a stage bathed in red light. “I’m happy to be here in Ghana with you, showing how great we are as a people.”

An electric guitar riffed on the first few notes of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as another day for a mayor-elect abroad came to a close.

Reporting was contributed by Philip Nii Lartey in Ghana, Ruth Maclean in Dakar, Senegal, and Michael M. Grynbaum in New York. Susan C. Beachy contributed research.

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